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David Stern went to an ugly place and slammed Dell Demps but no one should be deceived by the former NBA commissioner’s indecent behavior

Please don’t buy into the myth of some flawless legacy.

San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game One Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

David Stern and the New Orleans franchise will forever be tied at the hip in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but all of those positive notions of saving basketball in the Crescent City should have been unceremoniously set aside after reading through an article published yesterday by Sports Illustrated.

The former NBA commissioner spoke openly on various topics to Chris Ballard, ranging from LeBron James winding up with the Los Angeles Lakers to a changed stance on gambling to the Golden State Warriors’ dominance, but when it came time to discuss the failed Chris Paul to the Lakers trade, Stern didn’t show any restraint in calling out general manager Dell Demps and then throwing unnecessary gasoline on the ‘New Orleans may lose Anthony Davis’ argument.

How about Chris Paul, whose trade to the Lakers, Stern vetoed in 2011 during his time as de facto owner of the New Orleans franchise (then the Hornets, now the Pelicans)? “I didn’t do a great job of explaining it at the time. There was a trade that [New Orleans GM] Dell Demps wanted us to approve and I said heck no, but he had told [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey and [then Lakers GM] Mitch Kupchak he had authority to do it and he didn’t. I said no. We just settled a lockout and you want me to approve a basketball trade?”

The reaction was swift but Stern held firm. “[Demps] had agreed to [trade Paul to the Lakers for] Kevin Martin and Luis Scola or something, and I said we can do better than that.... And the next trade was [to the Clippers for] Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu and what we thought was a really great draft pick, the 10th pick, which turned out to be Austin Rivers. At least those three and someone else [center Chris Kaman]. But Dell Demps is a lousy general manager and none of those players are currently with the team anymore, and he may lose Anthony Davis.”

Stern continues: “I did it because I was protecting the then Hornets.... To this day everyone always asks me, ‘Well why did you keep Chris Paul from going to the Lakers?’ I didn’t keep him. I didn’t approve the trade. No team sells or trades a future Hall of Famer without the owner signing off, and I was the owner’s rep. But I wasn’t going to hand up Dell Demps.”

Wow. Stern, who has proclaimed time and again to have the best interests of the league and its players always at heart, publicly railed Demps! Why?!?

We’re well aware of the story of how David Stern took the helm back in 1984 and needed to throw plenty of hard punches because the NBA was in dire straits: A lot of teams were losing money, those on the outside didn’t want to invest in the Association and the public image was quite negative. Under his watch, the league eventually found prosperity, but along the way, he intentionally stepped on a lot of toes to see his vision through — and motivating factors didn’t always involve the greater good.

According to those in the know, Stern ruled with an iron fist and intimidating everyone under Association’s umbrella was a way of life. Have a look at how Adrian Wojnarowski described the commissioner’s upcoming retirement six years ago.

The biggest ego in the history of the sport, the emperor of the NBA gets everything he ever wanted now: 15 months of farewells and bows; a tidy 30 years to fit onto his Hall of Fame plaque; and a chance to repair and repackage a legacy that NBA commissioner David Stern had slowly, surely lost the power to manipulate.


Stern has been an excellent, opportunistic businessman. He did not inspire those under him, but ruled them with fear. He’s shown a good heart, too, advocated social change for greater goods. Through it all, Stern reveled in the intimidation of league office employees, referees, general managers, coaches and players. Most thought that’s why Stern would stay on the job forever, because he seemed to get such pleasure out of it.

We can only imagine the trouble Demps must have had in trying to deal Chris Paul within that type of environment. The rest of the front offices around the league knew the young GM had no leverage and I’m willing to bet Stern and his group added a few other obstacles as well. After all, the former commish did shoot down the first trade proposal — which on it’s face was a much better deal at making New Orleans more competitive from the get-go. I mean, upping a team’s win total was a general manager’s standard operating procedure, not pulling a Sam Hinkie, but with a bunch of angry owners protesting CP3 joining forces with Kobe Bryant in his ear, Stern couldn’t let that deal go through, could he?

No, and thus his latest tirade.

How dare anyone question his supreme authority, then or now. If Stern said he was able to wear two hats simultaneously, who is anyone to judge the former de facto owner of the New Orleans Hornets and the NBA commissioner? Who cares if he can’t name all of the players from the failed proposal in the SI article or mention the biggest chip, Goran Dragic, a player voted to an All-Star game and selected to an All-NBA third team. But stating that you failed to explain a simple matter well at the time and immediately offer up a totally subjective claim while treating it as gospel — that’s bulletproof!

{Roll eyes emoji}

While Demps has made his share of questionable decisions in the past and the Pelicans W/L record under his guidance isn’t ideal, that wasn’t an issue then, so it shouldn’t be one now. And the whole none-of-the-players-from-the-trade-that-went-through-are-not-on-the-team-anymore, are you kidding us with this stuff? Eric Gordon proved to be nothing but a dark cloud over the organization, Austin Rivers has and always will be a below average player, and Al-Farouq Aminu isn’t going to be the member of a core who helps a team win the title.

Sacramento Kings v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

When appropriate, many like to present the argument that the Pelicans wound up on the better path by losing more games in the 2011-12 season with Stern’s meddling. Well, duh, New Orleans currently has Anthony Davis! But remember a whole lot of luck was involved to make today a reality. The injury bug devastated that roster as Gordon appeared in nine games, Emeka Okafor, 27, and other key contributors like Trevor Ariza and Jarrett Jack missed time as well. The Hornets only had a 13.7% chance of landing the number one pick in the 2012 Draft. The arrival of Davis was far, far away from being any sort of guarantee.

Then, of course, we must also mention that Dell Demps hails from the Spurs’ basketball tree. In case you missed it, Stern was reportedly never a fan of San Antonio’s culture and he often tried to undermine it.

Back in the Spurs’ glory days, it was one disrespectful act after another out of Stern.

The Spurs don’t forget how the NBA’s vice president of operations, Stu Jackson, directly called Bruce Bowen to warn him about how he was playing defense and threaten him with future punishments. Jackson didn’t show the respect of reaching out to Spurs officials before communicating with Bowen, but bypassed them and got into the heads of one of their most important players. Phil Jackson himself couldn’t have orchestrated it better on behalf of the Lakers’ Western Conference championship chances.

They don’t forget how one of Stern’s top public-relations officials went out of her way to try to dissuade an NBA team owner from hiring a well-regarded Spurs executive as general manager. And they don’t forget that once that executive got the job, she went out of her way to try to undermine his operation.

Did you catch this last paragraph? Say, WHAT?!?

Anyways, there’s no need to continue traveling down this road because the message should be loud and clear. In any case, this should ring especially true after reading through the following New Orleans Pelicans statement in response to Stern’s comments from the controversial SI article.

The Pelicans not only expressed their disappointment but questioned the accuracy of Stern’s recollection of events. That’s hugely positive. The whole organization has thrown support behind their general manager and they’ve publicly gone on record. With so many lies being told these days, it’s completely necessary to refute them for the uninformed. One shouldn’t be allowed to blur the difference between right and wrong for his own personal gain or on some whim.

Big and small markets. Winning and losing franchises. Great and lousy general managers and coaches. Old and new owners. They all agree: Don’t push Stern too hard because there will be a price to pay. Better off bowing, kissing the ring and shuffling past him.

Thank goodness no one has to pay homage to this lousy emperor any longer.